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Robert Mailman (blue jacket) and Walter Gillespie (white jacket) appear outside of the Saint John Law Courts on Jan. 4, 2024. Image: Brad Perry

Two N.B. men exonerated in 1983 Saint John murder

By Brad Perry Jan 4, 2024 | 3:49 PM

Two New Brunswick men convicted in the 1983 murder of a man in Saint John have been exonerated.

Robert Mailman and Walter Gillespie were formally declared not guilty of murder on Thursday in the death of George Leeman.

“Mr. Mailman and Mr. Gillespie entered this courtroom today innocent in the eyes of the law as a result of Minister Virani’s order,” said Tracey DeWare, chief justice of New Brunswick’s Court of King’s Bench.

“They may leave the court today with that presumption of innocence maintained and forever confirmed for the fact that they have been found not guilty as charged.”

Leeman’s body was found by a jogger in a wooded area of the city’s Rockwood Park on Nov. 30, 1983.

Mailman and Gillespie were sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility for at least 18 years after being convicted of second-degree murder.

In December, Canada’s justice minister ordered a new trial after “new and significant information” called into question the overall fairness of the process.

Arif Virani said he determined there were reasonable grounds to conclude that a miscarriage of justice likely occurred.

“I’d just like to thank everybody,” an emotional Gillespie said following Thursday’s court appearance.

After the Crown called no evidence on Thursday, the judge said she had no choice but to find the pair not guilty of second-degree murder.

“It is most regretful it has taken 40 years for this day to come,” said DeWare.

Both men had their appeals to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal dismissed in 1998, and Gillespie was denied leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1994.

Gillespie served 21 years of his sentence before being granted parole while Mailman served 18 years. Gillespie is now 80 years old. Mailman, who is 76, is terminally ill.

“They’ve been 40 years waiting for this. As you can imagine, they’re glad this day has finally come,” said Ron Dalton, co-president of Innocence Canada, who spoke on behalf of Mailman following the hearing.

The non-profit organization has been working for years to try and exonerate Gillespie and Mailman.

Lawyer Jerome Kennedy says he was satisfied the pair were wrongfully convicted and were innocent of the charges.

“We’d shown that there was non-disclosure of significant information relating to the two key witnesses, and these same two key witnesses had recanted on a number of occasions,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy said new evidence also proved the men were far from the crime scene when the murder happened.

Fellow lawyer James Lockyer said the case should not have made it to trial in the first place in the 1980s.

“If full disclosure had been made at their trial, it would have been abundantly obvious that the only two Crown witnesses to said anything to implicate either of these men in the murder were not just unreliable but false,” said Lockyer.

Lockyer said this is the second case they have worked on in New Brunswick with similar issues, particularly related to non-disclosure.

Erin Walsh was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1975 death of Melvin “CheChe” Peters in Saint John.

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal quashed his conviction and entered an acquittal in 2008 after new evidence emerged

“The Saint John police have a lot to answer for, in my view,” said Lockyer.

The Saint John Police Force is saying little following the not-guilty verdicts in the Leeman murder.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the force said it is looking to understand better the minister’s decision to quash the convictions.

It will seek the results of the federal justice department’s review of the case and rationale that led to Thursday’s outcome, said the statement.

“While we respect the judicial process, we are deeply concerned with the impact it may have on all parties involved,” the statement read.

“We remain dedicated to upholding the highest standards of justice and will continue to work diligently to do so.”